The Importance of Quality Volunteering: the MD’s Perspective - African Impact Blog

When our Managing Director visited the project that he initially volunteered on, he was reminded why he first fell in love with African Impact... and why we continue to be leaders in the volunteer travel industry.

I am exceptionally proud of what we do at African Impact. My recent visit to a couple of our projects helped me to appreciate how much African Impact has developed over the years and how far behind many of the other volunteer project operators are. It saddens me to see volunteers experience mediocre projects which are doing more harm than good.

Arriving in Livingstone, Zambia, two volunteers and I were met at the airport by a member of our team who has worked with African Impact for more than eight years. At the same time, a volunteer who had chosen to join a programme provided by another organisation was also met at the airport. Unfortunately, as I saw later, there the similarities ended.

On the journey to our volunteer base, I chatted with our driver, someone I have known for six years, asking how his children were doing at school (his eldest is hoping to be a teacher), how work was going (he loved helping on our Home Based Care project), and I was pleased to hear he had now been able to buy a family car.

We arrived at the volunteer base which would be home for the two new volunteers over the next three weeks and I was pleased to see that it was full of information including: the long term aims and achievements for each of the projects, full of information about the structure of the programmes, what they would be doing day to day and why. Very importantly, there was also a room full of resources for them to use when preparing activities with our team of local and international staff.

Andrew Procter

This is the same service at all of our volunteer houses and is part of the African Impact Commitment To Excellence:

  • Your stay will be safe and comfortable
  • Your time will be organised and structured
  • Our team will help you to give and get the most from this experience
  • You will have a great time doing it – creating memories and friendships for life.

This is what you pay us for. This is what we deliver.

Whilst here, I took a day out to jump over the border to see the project I was an African Impact volunteer on nine years ago in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It was great to see how the Old People’s Home now had a flourishing vegetable garden, there were ablutions with running water, and the accommodation was now comfortable and clean.  We then went to a centre for people struggling with HIV & Aids. Nine years ago, this was a dry field, now it is full of vegetables, herbs and trees. It was great to hear volunteer involvement was reduced to one visit a month as the centre was now supporting its own garden.

I said my goodbyes to local people still employed who looked after me as a volunteer and who are still employed now I am the MD. They were part of the reason why I fell for African Impact and I knew this was the kind of organisation which had a vision for volunteering which matched mine. This visit was a great reminder on what good volunteering looks and feels like.

Volunteer Helping Out Group In Garden

Sadly on this trip,  I also experienced a bad side of volunteering. I saw the volunteer from the airport again, the one who had chosen another operator, whilst on a tour of one of the communities we support. Sitting outside a small school in this very poor community was the young lady I had seen arrive at the same time as me.

She had ridden a bike to the project alone, across busy streets and through a couple of communities. For comparison, we had been dropped off by our driver after he had taken our volunteers to a nearby school along with four of our team to be there for advice, guidance and translation. She looked lost and nervous.

I subsequently found out that her choice was to either take an hour to walk to the school or to hire the bike from the volunteer organisation. Where I had seen our volunteers jump off the vehicle with lots of material and equipment to enhance the lessons they would be giving alongside the teachers, she had no resources with her and I wondered how prepared she could possibly be?

It seemed that this volunteer received no direction or support on what to do, how to act around the kids and, being alone,  how to answer any concerns or questions they might have. There were no children or teachers at the school for the hour or so I was there – were they on holiday and nobody bothered to tell the volunteer?

As we left, over an hour later, I noticed she was still sitting in the same corner, bike propped up against the wall. I wondered whether this what she expected life as a volunteer would be like. Maybe she shrugged, as many people do, and said “This is Africa”. I wondered how much of her time was being wasted and when there were children at the school, how much was she really able to contribute towards their education and development. How much of the volunteers’ time was simply wasted by making them walk to the projects?

I heard about how these volunteers often had nothing to do as no one lets them know when the schools are on holiday. I heard how they looked enviously at our busy volunteers as we ran sessions at Holiday Clubs so that we were still making an impact even when the schools were out.

If she had decided to volunteer with us, she would have simply had a better and more impactful experience.

Volunteers Teaching Young Children Volunteer Helping Out

I had a much better time meeting with some of the residents who have received support and education from our volunteers and hearing how it has helped to improve their lives and those of their families. I walked passed the chicken houses we had helped them build with Eco-Bricks (I also noticed how much less litter there was now we had taught them about this eco-friendly method – plastic bottles stuffed with non-compostable litter, and was inspired by the full vegetable garden the community supports.

We returned to our volunteer base to hear about the morning our volunteers had had over lunch: Some had been completing literacy tests with Grade 5 students which showed the boys were now averaging 56% and the girls had improved from an average of 31% to 54%; I heard about the First Aid course two doctors and a nurse had been giving to a team of local Home Based carers; and I saw how much effort our coordinator and three volunteers were putting in to the training sessions they had planned that afternoon for the local soccer team.

This is what volunteering should feel like. This is why I love being part of African Impact.

If you’ve read our Commitment To Excellence and the reviews from volunteers that meant we were announced GoAbroad.com’s Top Rated Volunteer Organization 2016, then the next step is to see us in action for yourself.

Come and make your impact on one of the programs mentioned in this blog, or visit our project pages to find out what other opportunities are available!

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